Majority of UK employees unable to take sick days

More than half (52%) of UK full-time employees did not take a single sick day in the 12 months since February 2021.

According to data from customer service outsourcing provider AlldayPA, many employees are finding themselves unable to take time off for illness, entitled to them by law.

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Noelle Murphy, senior HR practice editor at XpertHR, said that much of this comes from employees feeling guilty over leaving work for others to do.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “In an effort to avoid causing delays to projects, and adding to workloads, employees with genuine illnesses will try to push through in the belief they’re making an effective contribution. 

“This trend is more likely common in the hybrid working environment as there’s no real physical barrier for staff choosing to log on and face the day.”

Similarly, more than six in 10 (62%) employees said they had not taken their full annual leave allowance last year.

While many employees have carried annual leave over from the pandemic as allowed by law, Murphy added that some will be holding back from taking time off because they feel unable to or want to prove their worth.

She said: “When it comes to annual leave, people managers and leaders can play a key role in encouraging employees to disconnect and take a proper break.”

This problem however, extends even to smaller breaks, like lunch. As many as one in seven (14%) employees find they can’t take more than a 15-minute break for lunch.

Gareth Jeffrey, head of customer service at AlldayPA, told HR magazine that employees feeling pressured to skip breaks, holidays, or even work while sick is an age-old problem. He said: “Presenteeism helps no one.

“Organisations need people [to be] effective and engaged, and you can’t achieve that if employees are ‘always on and always there’, and that covers being both physically and digitally present.”

Presenteeism is a cultural issue, said Murphy. 

“Setting a standard from the top will help promote a more accepting work culture, and it’s vital that senior management lead by example.”

Jeffrey added: “The traditional view of managers has always been to support employees being present, but not recognising the connection between 'being a trooper' and a decline in quantity or quality of work.  

“Businesses need to encourage people to take breaks, ensure that they take holidays and promote wellbeing. 

“In an increasingly competitive recruitment market, especially for younger workers, it's the kind of behaviour that will improve engagement and strengthen the employer brand."